Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Former Olympian Johnny Weissmuller returns to the silver screen to reprise the role of the title character in Tarzan and His Mate, the sequel to the 1932 MGM hit film Tarzan the Ape Man. To accompany Weissmuller is his fellow co-star from the previous picture is Maureen O’Sullivan, this time as a more adventurous and carefree Jane, whom is more at home with Tarzan than the civilization whish she came from. Based on the popular characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, MGM began to run with the idea of a series of Tarzan films that supplied adventure, exotic jungles, a love story, and titillating thrills that visually please both men and women.

Tarzan and His Mate is direct sequel to Tarzan, the Ape Man, continuing the story of Tarzan and Jane as continue to live in the jungle, running into a friend of Jane who wishes to poach ivory from a sacred elephant graveyard, much to the dislike of Tarzan. The film picks up a year after the events of the 1932 film with a very content Jane happily living in the jungle side by side with her new self proclaimed husband, Tarzan. The couple meets up with an old friend Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), whom she knew from previous adventure that led her jungle spouse. Holt, along with his business partner Martin Arlington (Paul Cavangh), are on a mission to tap the ivory of an elephant graveyard, using Tarzan to help lead them to their coveted prize. Much to the dislike of idea of defiling this sacred place, Tarzan first asks them to no ravage the tusks of the dead elephants, and then is forced to stop them after Arlington attempts to murder Tarzan over the greed of this proverbial gold mine of ivory. With the help of his jungle companions Tarzan protects his land from the evils of these greedy city men.

Coming off the high energy of the first Tarzan picture of the Johnny Weissmuller age, this film has some expectations, and for the most part fulfilled them. We are reunited with Tarzan and Jane as they are now husband and wife, one with the jungle. Tarzan is still teaching Jane about animals and ways to get around the trees and vines, while Jane is still trying to refine the wild man, turning him into a trained husband, while not losing the things about him she loves the most about him, as a man of the natural jungle. Both Tarzan and Jane fly high in the tress, share in the love story, and experience the drama throughout this picture. Of course, beside the adventure and drama there is the very reveling clothing for both Weissmuller and O’Sullivan to parade their figures in. This film as built to please in many aspects that a Tarzan sequel would bring to mind, and for the most part it achieved them. Campy at times and clique at others, Tarzan and His Mate was a film that was produced with a little of those ideas in mind, making this a fine sequel, the first of many in this Tarzan series.

Rule one with all sequels is that audiences want to visit the same characters they saw in the previous film, and here we are reunited with both stars, Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. Weissmuller, the former Olympic swimmer, was very new to acting and would make a splash with his appearance as Tarzan. His athletic build and good looks made him perfect for the job, because, face it, he did little talking. O’Sullivan brings with her a slightly more matured Jane. This time around she, Jane, is still young and na├»ve, but is beginning to become more at home in the vines than in the city. O’Sullivan was only 21 when she first played Jane, marking her first big imprint in the movie world. She had been in a good handful of films before, but was not noticed until she started having her clothes ripped off in the Tarzan movies. In this feature she showcased a very revealing two piece bathing suit costume, baring a fair amount more skin than you will see in any Tarzan film for decades. Also returning in the picture is the character of Harry Holt played by Neil Hamilton. Once during the silent era Hamilton was a great leading man, but would continue to decline through his career. Sadly today he is most remembered for his role as Commissioner Gordon from the 1960s television show Batman, a cult classic in its own right, but a two-dimensional acting job.

Credited as director of the picture was Cedric Gibbons, a man who was in fact the head of the art department at MGM, and not a director. Gibbons is most responsible for the artistic touches of cleverly hiding trapeze lines in the trees for Tarzan to swing from and making large African elephants out of smaller Indian elephants. He would be appointed to direct the film when MGM relieved Jack Conway from his directing duties. Despite Gibbons being given credit for the direction of the film, for which he mainly made his art direction look good, it very little known director James C. McKay that in reality did much of the actual directing of the actors. Despite this little known fact, McKay was only credited as animal director.

The picture was a very daring venture made by MGM. Besides the very little clothing worn by the two co-stars, the film features a very controversial nude scene by the Jane character. It takes place in the middle of the movie where Tarzan and Jane go for a swim and Jane’s clothing is ripped off. What follows for the audience to voyeuristically look at is an artistic water dance of sorts by the two characters. O’Sullivan during this scene was doubled for by another Olympic swimmer, Josephine McKim, for her underwater skills which she shared with Weissmuller and her trim athletic figure. This scene would, of course, caused issues with regional censors at the time before the Hays Office began regulating censorship. Therefore it is said three different versions of the scene was actually shot: one with clothed Jane, another with a topless Jane, and the original intended nude Jane. This would allow different regions to choose which cut was most suitable for film. Once the production code took over Hollywood, parts of the film was censored, including cutting the swimming scene altogether. For years the scene was presumed lost, until discovered in the archives in the 1990s and restored with the nude swim. In future sequel film produced under the production code the two piece bathing suit was replaced with a single long costume, as this film’s Jane outfit was deemed too inappropriate.

This sequel did everything an audience hoped a sequel would do. It reunited us with old friends and even took the story a bit further, especially with the skin involved. It would be well received for both its time and for history in general. Today the movie is preserved alongside of most of America’s finest films in the Library of Congress in Washington. Weissmuller had his career as Tarzan, a role he seemed to embrace. O’Sullivan loved her role too, but as future Tarzan films would continue to be produced, she would begin to despise the role, despite the paychecks. In any case this motion picture was fine one, especially for a sequel, as good ones were very hard to come by at that time. By in 1934, Tarzan was one of movie’s biggest iconic characters, and the Tarzan series for MGM was a sure fire way to make money.

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